May 31, 2011

Eagle Valley Reservoir, Spring Valley State Park

Eagle Valley Reservoir, looking west towards boat dock

I had visited Eagle Valley Reservoir just three times over the last three decades.  Eagle Valley is located at the end of state highway 322 in the Spring Valley State Park, next to Ursine, Nevada.  Geographically, it is east of Pioche and northeast of Panaca, about seven miles west of the Utah border.  It is one of southern Nevada’s more picturesque parks.  Although I’ve not camped overnight, it seems to have great facilities (even showers) and plenty of park ambassadors to compensate for any lack of park rangers.  Its proximity to Ursine and even Pioche give it added amenities, but also contribute to its high usage.  The little enclave of Ursine that functions as the park gateway has that rural “commercial” feel to it, which is another detractor for my sensibilities.

Looking southeast over Ursine valley ranch land
In the 1980s the reservoir was known to hold brown trout, which was an attraction for me. Thus my first visit was in the late 1980s, but I only fished the creek below the dam.  I was returning from an Ely fishing trip and only had an hour or so to fish.  I recall catching one small brown trout.  At that time in my fishing life I was more enamored with Beaver Dam Creek because it was slightly larger and much more remote… Eagle Valley seemed busy to me.

On reservoir looking southeast; cliff area just to right off the picture
I next fished it in late October of 2004.  That particular October day was very cold, and I only saw one other boat fishing that day.  We had exchanged fishing reports when they got close enough; they reported catching one nice brown trout which was an encouragement to me.  However, I only caught four rainbows near the inlet, all identical thirteen inchers.  I was on the water about four hours, and when I got out my feet and legs were so numb from the cold I had difficulty walking back to the truck while portaging the float tube over my head.  After I stowed away the float tube and regained some feel in my legs and feet I explored the little creek above the inlet.  I came upon a couple of spawning brown trout that were quite large for that little creek (maybe sixteen to eighteen inches).  My clumsy casting on such a small creek set them off upstream.  Not sure if there is much successful spawning in the creek as it is your typical cattle country meadow creek… usually too silted for effective spawning.

One of the larger rainbows of the day, maybe twelve inches
My last visit was a “pass through” in July 2010.  Once again I had decided to return from Ely using the Great Basin Scenic Highway and I made a detour into Spring Valley State Park.  It was very weeded, as it usually is in mid-summer.  I did not fish Eagle Valley on that trip.

This trip was more purposeful than the last three.  I had taken this week off and planned to do an overnighter in Ely, or perhaps southern Utah, but the weather was not cooperating.  The strange weather we experienced through the winter was carrying through into the late spring.  There just was not two days together of “floatable” weather.  However, the weatherman predicted calm winds at Eagle Valley until noon, so I decided to give it another shot.

One of the few "colorful" rainbows caught on woolly bugger
Another brightly colored rainbow; note unraveled hackle feather
making the woolly bugger resemble a streamer
It took about three hours to get to the reservoir.  At 7:30 AM I was surprised to find no one on the water fishing.  By the time I launched the Outlaw Escape it was 8:00 AM and two gentlemen had arrived to fish off the dock.  I immediately targeted the cliffs on the southern side of the reservoir, near the dam (the elongated reservoir runs west-to-east in the canyon).  Not only did the cliffs mean that shore anglers likely didn’t fish there, there were patches of new reed growth and other vegetation at the shoreline that indicated trout would be present.  I caught the bulk of my fish there, although all but three were recent ten-inch planters; those three were closer to twelve inches and a little deeper in color.  But by 11:00 AM the winds were gusting up to twenty-plus mph and they were coming from the west, pushing me away from the dock.  Although it took me a good thirty minutes to row back to the dock, I must say that without the integrated oar system on the Outlaw Escape I would never had made it back.

Tying a brown nymph on the tippet
When I got out of the water I had tallied sixteen trout, plus two long distance releases.  I had caught ten trout within the first hour, but action slowed after that.  Most were caught on a green woolly bugger, but a few on a brown nymph as well.  But then the wind calmed a little and I decided to wade into the bay area just to the left (north) of the dock.  I had seen a rise or two and thought I should explore the area with my favorite little four weight rod (it can be a relief after casting woolly buggers on the end of a full sinking line all morning with a nine foot rod).

In the last decade or so the Nevada Department of Wildlife has added tiger trout to its rainbow stocking program, although brown trout are still present.  The tiger trout is a hatchery hybrid between a brown trout and a brook trout (these hybrids are sterile).  So far on this trip everything was a rainbow, and I had hoped to hook into a tiger or brown.

As I waded into the bay I was casting a little black gnat on a floating line.  In three successive casts I landed three little rainbows.  Even the gentlemen on the dock had their curiosity piqued by this fly fisherman. Although the fish were small nine inchers, there is still a special thrill catching trout on a dry fly, and the little seven and one-half foot rod still bent over as they fought to get away.  I had another surface strike that I miss timed.  After action slowed I switched to a little elk hair caddis fly.  That did not receive any surface strikes, but as I was retrieving a cast parallel to the shoreline the fly submerged and I felt a take.  To my surprise and satisfaction, I had hooked into a fourteen inch tiger trout which was obviously attracted by the “swimming” fly.  It was the first tiger trout I had ever caught.  It was the last trout of the day, partly because it was so pleasing and partly because I had promised Denise I would be home at a certain hour.


Tiger trout caught on sunken caddis fly
If I was not aware of the tiger trout hybrids and their stocking in the Eagle Valley Reservoir I could easily have mistaken this fish for an oddly spotted brown trout.  In fact, everything about this trout resembled a brownie except that its normally round black spots were less “round” and more mottled.  It was a pretty fish that fought very hard (no jumping as is characteristic of both brown and brook trout), and I was happy to release it into its wet environs.

Bay area to left of dock; easy wading and fun dry fly fishing here
Elk hair caddis fly that attracted the tiger trout
Although this trip felt rushed and sandwiched into a break in the weather, it was a surprisingly fulfilling trip.  And while constant action can be fun (twenty trout landed, with two LDRs, in about four hours of fishing), catching my first tiger trout on a dry fly cast with my favorite fly rod… well that simply made the whole trip.  I know, it seems like such a simple thing.  And of course it is in the big scheme of things.  But these sorts of “unique” or “first” events please me to no end.

I am always surprised how one fish, caught on one particular cast, can make a whole trip.  Thousands of books have been written about fly fishing, and many of them describe that enchanting event when a difficult fish is caught by just the right fly at the end of a perfect cast.  Often it becomes that defining moment where a budding fly fisherman has forever hooked himself into the sport, or when a more seasoned fisherman finally feels he has “arrived” in the sport.  Not sure that the tiger was such a defining moment for me; I’ve been blessed with more than my share of memorable fish.  It could be the flawless cast on a handmade rod that I recall, the special fly I tied with my own hands, the size or type of fish itself, or the uniquely pleasing setting in which it all took place.  Memories of two or more in one event, well those are highly special.  I think it is the pursuit of those events that brings me back to fly fishing for trout over and over…   

The satisfied angler

May 13, 2011

Cold Creek, Spring Mountains, Nevada

Spring Mountains southeast of Cold Creek Pond
Curiosity got the best of me. The warmer weather prompted me to wonder how the Cold Creek trout were faring. So, after dropping off my son at his school, I high-tailed it to Cold Creek to check them out with my favorite fly rod.

The weather was perfect, although breezy at times. The temperature was in the high sixties when I parked at the pond around 7:20 AM. The skies were clear, and there was no one in sight. In fact, it was odd that I saw no wildlife or horses on this trip save the one desert cottontail I spotted on the dirt road to the pond. Although the fishing was slow, I really enjoyed the solitude.

The dirt road leading to the pond
The pond is again infested with koi and other exotic fish, but there are still trout present. The NDOW website (see link to the right of this blog) indicates the pond hasn’t been stocked since last November 9th of last year. If that is correct, then these trout have survived through the winter and deep into the spring, which I find amazing given the diminutive size of the pond and the pressure it receives on occasion. Although I only caught four small trout, I did manage to leave a fly in the mouth of what felt like a twelve-inch trout. A blood knot failed when the fish thrashed in the depths of the pond (rather than replace the entire leader, I had tied on a new 6x tippet to the shortened leader, and the joining blood knot finally gave on this larger fish). Still, four small trout in seventy-five minutes of fishing wasn’t that bad, especially if the pond hadn’t been stocked since last November.  I did see a few larger fish porpoising on occasion, but I just didn't have time to try and figure them out because I needed to be home by mid-morning.  If these larger trout are but a few remaining from last November's stocking they have seen a lot of bait, hardware, and flies thrown at them these past six months, so they are smarter than your average stocked trout and worthy of the effort.  I'm thinking an early morning assault at sunrise might be fun before it gets any warmer.

Small rainbow trout
Due to the snow melt off the Spring Mountains the creek was flowing a little stronger and the pond was at capacity. When I circumnavigated the pond and reached the pipe spillway I noted that the pond had overflowed and there were deep cuts in the downstream side of the pond embankment. While it will likely survive for a while it seems to me it will need to be repaired before another storm causes it to breach again.

Flood fissures cutting into earthen dam
High water near spillway pipes; note beginning of fissures
This short visit was accented with classic spring weather and peaceful quietness. It was a nice two-hour getaway.

May 5, 2011

Cold Springs Reservoir, Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area

Sixteen-plus inch Cold Spring rainbow (note spawning color into caudal fin)
My first trip to Wayne Kirch was on April 1, 2005. It was a cold, windy day as I recall. I was the only fisherman on the water, and it was rough going in my Fish Cat tube. My notes from that day report that I landed just three rainbows. They also record three long distance releases (LDRs, as we call them) and three missed strikes. The notes blamed my poor showing on the cold weather and slow reflexes. Although I don’t recall that trip being particularly enjoyable, it was my maiden voyage to the Kirch WMA.

I first heard about Kirch (a.k.a. Sunnyside) in the 1980s. Merl Rees, the EG&G Energy Measurements Procurement Director, used to visit the area often. He fished from a boat (“The only way to fish Sunnyside”, he would say), and in that early season of my fishing life I was not into boats. In fact, I wasn’t into still water fishing much at all, preferring the more obvious strategy involved in stream fishing.
"Kicking it" on Cold Spring (Grant Range is 20 miles away)
Isn’t it curious to look back in your life and see how much things have changed, or more precisely how much you have changed? When I was young, adventuresome, and strong I preferred hiking into the mountains and along the streams for hours with fly rod in hand, trying to escape the crowds and hoping for native or at least wild trout. While I still enjoy stream fishing very much, aches and pains keep me from attacking it like I did in my twenties and thirties. Age and experience has taught me that for the most part, bigger fish are found in bigger water, not to mention that floating still waters on my butt is a pretty easy gig. Sometimes those nostalgic look-backs can bring melancholy, and if we are not careful we can find ourselves pining for our youth. While I do have fond memories of all my youthful outdoor adventures, I think that dwelling on them in a manner that suggests unhappiness with the present is unhealthy. Although God created us to be eternal beings (Ecclesiastes 3:11), we clearly will not achieve that in this world; most of us will age and then die. He made us eternal for His purpose, to be in fellowship with Him forever. We recognize that while we are in this world, we are not of this world (John 18:36). And so, fond memories are good, but keep your eye on the prize (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). The point being, live in the present with God’s companionship.
Twelve-inch Cold Springs rainbow
Prototypical, non spawning, thirteen inch rainbow
It took another two years before my second visit to Kirch WMA on May 3, 2007 . That trip produced thirty-three fish brought to hand (including five bass) in just five hours. I had forty hook-ups that day, an average of eight an hour. The two most memorable trout of that day were the eighteen inch hen fish and a seventeen inch male sporting an emerging kyped jaw. I’m certain that day is the reason why I continue to fish there so frequently.
Sixteen-plus inch male rainbow
Ironically, almost four years to the day, Cold Springs produced a few more memorable fish. The weather was a cool fifty degrees when I arrived at 7:40 AM, but it warmed quickly, reaching close to eighty by the time I left at 4:15 PM. When I arrived there were two other boats with a couple-three fishermen each, and a handful of anglers on the dam. Throughout the day a few left and even more arrived. Still, it was not crowded (fishing on a Thursday surely helped that). I was the only fly fisherman on a tube; I think I saw a gentleman occasionally casting a fly rod while standing in his boat.
Trout Truck faithfully transported my NFO Outlaw Escape to the WMA
As is usual, insect and fish activity changed throughout the day as the temperatures warmed. Through most of the day I fished with my nine foot, five weight rod. I was using a full sinking line to cast woolly buggers and large nymphs, a pretty productive combination. I managed to land two sixteen to seventeen inch rainbows. They were darkly colored males (obviously in spawning mode) that were exhibiting significantly kyped jaws, much like the one shown on my May 3, 2007 blog report. I was amazed to see the signature red-to-orange lateral color carry all the way to their caudal tail fins.
Close up of lower kyped jaw 
At about 3:00 PM I decided to row to the south-eastern corner near the dam and allow the wind to push me back toward the boat docking area for the last hour or so of fishing. I switched out the nine-footer with my little seven and one-half foot, four weight rod. It was pre-rigged with a floating line and a size sixteen parachute black gnat with a tuft of white fur for visibility (for my eyes, not the trout’s). My first dry fly cast was rewarded with a rise and take from a nice little twelve incher. I got a few more rises along the weeds from smaller trout, but size didn’t matter as that sweet little rod was a joy to cast. Besides, catching trout on the surface is a special treat.
Blue heron stalking the shallows
As I maneuvered into the boat docking area (imagine a thirty-yard channel through the water weeds) I noticed a blue heron staring intently into the water. Then I noticed trout porpoising along the dock. This reminded me of the situation that John and I encountered on Haymeadow Reservoir on April 1st. That morning we witnessed the fish hatchery truck dump trout and a school of them never seemed to leave the docking area. By the end of that day there still were large trout present which contrasted with the stockers. John suggested the larger trout were trying to spawn (a futile attempt as fertilized trout eggs need to be deposited in shallow redds of pea gravel under cold, flowing water); I thought that perhaps the hatchery dumped some spawned-out adults.
Young twelve incher ready to spawn, too
So, having experienced that strange situation last April, I kick-paddled the NFO Outlaw Escape to the rocky shore on the right side of the Cold Spring dock in order to be able to cast from a standing position. I caught several trout around the dock with the four-weight rod, but I could see there were larger fish not cooperating with me. I decided to walk around the dock and fish from the concrete boat ramp next to the left side of the dock. I then switched flies to a dark nymph (just like on April 1st) whereupon I hooked into a large male of just over sixteen inches. He was clearly there to spawn; John was correct about that. 
Last trout of the day, sixteen-plus inch male (note rainbow color into peduncle) 
Close up of bead head nymph and jaw kype
By the end of the day I am happy to report that my casting arm was sore, as was my right index finger (the grip I use to cast and play fish relies heavily upon my index finger). I had fished for eight hours, nonstop, without a potty break. Interestingly, I did not catch one bass on this warm day in early May. I did hook up with thirty-five trout, landing twenty-three of them (that LDR ratio seemed high to me, too). And three of them were large males, sixteen inches or better, displaying their kyped jaws and full spawning adornment.
Good and tired, but happy 
Thirty years ago I never would have thought fishing for trout while floating on a reservoir in the middle of the Great Basin high desert could be so much fun. Isn’t it wonderful how things change over time?